Poverty Cuts Off Your Long-Term Brain

I was admiring Nelson Mandela’s words yesterday and thinking about racism and poverty. When I want better schools, I can’t start the conversation without thinking about the context of those schools. Schools are very much a reflection of the society around them. Some argue that we cannot change schools without changing society. So can we change society? Why are there more kids in poverty now than twenty years ago? This alone would indicate a failure of society, not the schools into which we send poor kids! And all I can see from my little perch, is that we do not have the will power to stop our short-term thinking and embrace the harder conversations that lead to long-term thinking and successful societies. I came across Andy Smarick’s column and he advised looking at this Atlantic magazine piece on the “how” of poverty:

Poverty is bleak and cuts off your long-term brain. It’s why you see people with four different babydaddies instead of one. You grab a bit of connection wherever you can to survive. You have no idea how strong the pull to feel worthwhile is. It’s more basic than food. You go to these people who make you feel lovely for an hour that one time, and that’s all you get. You’re probably not compatible with them for anything long-term, but right this minute they can make you feel powerful and valuable. It does not matter what will happen in a month. Whatever happens in a month is probably going to be just about as indifferent as whatever happened today or last week. None of it matters. We don’t plan long-term because if we do we’ll just get our hearts broken. It’s best not to hope. You just take what you can get as you spot it. (The Atlantic—“Why Poor People Seem to Make Bad Decisions.”)

I want to make sure to underline that my interest is education—but that interest is ruled by the larger umbrella of poverty. We have to come to understand that without hard work on securing basic issues of food and water, a poor society will replicate its short-term thinking in how it schools those people. Securing the future takes long-term thinking about securing supplies of food and water and the better schooling that will evolve out of this will be something to be proud of…for all of us.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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